Book Review: Your Future is More Than Your Career

review

Note: as part of Throwback Thursday, I’m posting this piece I wrote May 16, 2011, for my LiveJournal blog. I am planning to slowly move over anything of substance from LiveJournal to this one, with plans on turning the LiveJournal into something else.

What Should I Do With My Life? The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question, by Po Bronson. Published 2002 by Random House. 370 pages, ISBN 978-0345485922. Buy at Amazon.com.

I wasn’t intending on writing about this book. It had been on my list of books to read for a long time, so long where I can’t even remember where I had heard about it or why it had been on my list other than remembering it was a ‘career’-type book that was recommended for people looking for meaning in their career.

But as I read this book, I realized it was more than a ‘career’ book. This was no job hunting guide. This was a book about being lost in your life, and how several people were able to find their true destinies, and how several – while not finding their true destiny, at least knew they had one and were searching for it. In other words, this was a book about me.

I grew up fast: I knew at an early age that college was the only way to get out of where I grew up, and I wanted to get out of there. The small town, while it may be comforting to others, was stifling to me and to my personality and I needed a bigger city to be myself in. I focused on my grades in high school, knowing the only way to get to college would be on scholarship. I choose a school that was in a suburb of Kansas City, because it was still small enough for my small town nature yet close enough to a city to where I felt that I had the best of both worlds as I slowly came out of my shell. And it was a long drive from where I grew up.

In other words, this was a book about me.

Because of finances and moving in with the man who would eventually become my husband, I also went through college fast – graduating in three and a half years. In that time, I really didn’t explore what I wanted to do with my life. An early love of writing made me know I wanted to do something with that, but a freshman year education class made me realize I didn’t have the patience or passion to become an English teacher, which was what I began my college career intending to be. Not really exploring the details, I went into journalism – since that was still writing – and had a brief stint on the college newspaper and edited the school yearbook (which was more of a magazine than a yearbook) my junior/senior year. I fell in love with being the editor – seeing the whole forest, yet also needing to focus on the trees. I also realized I had a knack for writing nonfiction as well as fiction, but wasn’t sure where to go from there.

But I had limited help in finding a career in that field when I graduated (I even had to find my own internship, and since I was still naive and unsure as to the Kansas City area at the time, I ended up doing something that was not successful). I fell into administrative assistant work since I could type 80+ words a minute … and have pretty much been there ever since.

My volunteer work with KC Stage (as well as helping out in marketing and other positions with area arts organizations) was intended as a two-fold goal: to help get out of that catch-22 of finding a job in my field of needing experience to get experience (which alas has never happened), and to combine my love of theatre with my love of writing (in fact, my senior project was creating a magazine that had a lot of the same ideas as KC Stage).

I started to feel it – a sense of wanting to have the job be more than ‘just’ a job.

But as my career continued, with job after job, I started to feel it – a sense of wanting to have the job be more than ‘just’ a job. I wanted a job (and a company) where I mattered, where what I did was something I wanted to do and was good at, where my co-workers appreciated what I was capable of and challenged me to be the best I could be. I wanted to do something with my life.

It was hard explaining this to anyone. My mother, who had found her dream job before she went to college and stayed with it until she retired, couldn’t understand why I was having such a hard time staying with a company. Friends and family had the attitude of ‘you should be thankful to have a job’ (and as the years progressed, added the ‘in this economy’ refrain). Even my husband, who at least tried to understand where I was coming from, and even supported every time I quit, still didn’t seem to quite understand why it was such a drive for me to have a job that was more than just a paycheck.

Reading What Should I Do With My Life? was the first time I felt I found someone who understood. There were so many times in reading the various chapters where I caught myself saying, ‘Yes, YES!’ at a sentence that hit a nerve, or a person who stated exactly the feelings that filtered through my brain. I knew before I got a fourth of the way through that I wanted to buy this book, but not my usual reason of knowing I’d want to re-read it (although I probably will), but for the same reason I bought a copy of Reality is Broken: because I wanted to support the author and I wanted to show I believed in the book.

Reading What Should I Do With My Life? was the first time I felt I found someone who understood.

The only time I didn’t relate to the stories was with the chapter on the parents and parenting – Bronson’s obviously not into the Childfree By Choice concept, or that there are those of us who know children just are not part of our destiny and are fine with that choice. But the story of the man whose twin committed suicide hit me far deeper than it should, bringing up painful memories I thought I had progressed beyond.

I still don’t know what I want to do with my life (outside of knowing I want to be a part of something that matters), but I’m now no longer quite so lost, as I am now confident in the knowledge that I am not alone in this feeling. And while reading the book, something extraordinary happened. I started writing fiction again – something I haven’t done in almost ten years. I don’t want to go too much into it (what little superstitious nature I do have doesn’t want to jinx it or scare my ‘muse’ away), and reading this book wasn’t the only thing I was doing that caused this to happen, but part of me wonders how much of it was the stories within sparking something in my head that made it okay again to write something other than theatre-related items.

So, if you feel lost about your place in this world, and have wondered even once about whether what you were getting paid for was what your life had in store, you should read this book. Even at nine years old, it still rings true and relevant, and is worth it. If anything else, to help you realize you are not alone. Not by a long shot.

Sample chapters, excerpts from the audio book, a reader’s guide, and even reader testimonials (which I guess this falls into) can all be found on Bronson’s website. Check it out – you won’t regret it.